TOBACCO sponsorship and sport is an emotive issue and a convenient bandwagon for politicians, if such a breed exists in Hong Kong. The subject has received a major airing in the sports pages of this newspaper over the past seven days with predictable stances taken by those directly or indirectly involved. It is simplistic to view tobacco sponsorship of sport in Hong Kong in black and white terms - ban it completely or permit it. But that is what the Legislative Council plans to do and it was the risk of $200 million disappearing from the sports promotion arena that prompted Brian Catton to set last week's debate in motion. Since I commented on this issue some time ago, certain crucial points have changed in relation to Hong Kong, the most important factor being the likelihood of a total ban. My own views on tobacco and sport are unchanged: they simply make a bad marriage. Athletes and professional sportsmen endorsing, however tangentially, a habit which can cause death or life-threatening disease, cannot be viewed in any positive light. The prime danger, of course, is the subtle suggestion that because such obvious public idols as Michael Chang take part in tobacoo-promoted events, the habit itself is not only acceptable but also part of a trendy lifestyle. I can safely state that I am in a position to realise how important sponsorship is to Hong Kong sport as, in other guises, I have been involved for years in sports promotions. It is easy for politicians and their ilk to talk of a ban on tobacco sponsorship and know they are on safe ground. Catton's decision to seek the support of over 30 sports bodies to lobby against the proposed ban was logical. His company is deeply involved in at least two events which are funded primarily by tobacco companies and will clearly be at risk in the event of a ban. At least two other events would face possible cancellation - a tennis Open and a major windsurfing competition. As the back pages continued to devote space to this debate last week, the front page sported a full size colour picture of San San, our Olympic windsurfing heroine who is our sportsperson of the year. Just how much did her rise to Olympic glory owe to substantial tobacco sponsorship of her, in mainstream terms, relatively minor sport? I have no doubt tobacco companies are completely cynical about sports promotions and if there were other avenues open where they could advertise, sport would be discarded as quickly as an empty packet of their product. But they are allowed this niche in sponsorship/advertising because so many other major industries will not become involved. Catton, like other sports promoters, will have spent countless hours trying to persuade multi-national companies to back viable events which would bring pleasure to thousands and enhance the sponsor's image. Step in the tobacco companies. Underwrite a tournament, in come the big names, the public enjoys the occasion and the promoter makes a profit. For the sake of a tobacco name in the title and a few advertising boards, Hong Kong has been able to play host to several names in the top 10 of world tennis - or cricket for that matter. Sadly, as it frequently stands, if there was no tobacco sponsorship there would be no major tennis tournaments in Hong Kong and this is a sport that has captured the imagination of the local public. When this issue is eventually brought forward for another reading and the possibility of a total ban becomes more real, our politicians might decide to come up with an alternative to tobacco sponsorship because that is the only way it will work - unless Hong Kong, to a considerable extent, is to become a sporting desert.